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Storming the 'beaches' of Pennsylvania

Area team wins award in annual paintball battle

Paintball teams portraying “Allied” units storm a “beach” from their faux landing craft during the annual ION (Invasion of Normandy) tournament in Jim Thorpe, Penn. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
July 27, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Little more than a month past the 65th anniversary of D-Day, a tactical team from Southbridge was named Most Valuable Team for the Allies at a reenactment of the invasion of Normandy.

But this time, the "Germans" won the battle — in the annual event which doesn't stick to the script of history.

Nine members of Yankee Division, a military simulation paintball team headquartered in Southbridge, were among the approximately 4,000 participants in Skirmish U.S.A.' s annual ION (Invasion of Normandy) tournament.

Yankee Division has been part of the tournament — the largest single weekend paintball event in the world attracting teams from across the globe — for six years as part of the Allied forces.

"We got our name from the actual Massachusetts Yankee Division," said team member Jonathan Jacobson, a math teacher at Southbridge High School, explaining that one of the 25 members of the team served in the Army's Yankee Division in the mid 1990s.

Jacobson said the team, which is sponsored by Tippmann Sports LLC., V-Force Paintball, Hammerhead Paintball Products, TechT, Special Ops Paintball, Crossfire Inc. and JassePaintball, competes in military simulations Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Indiana and New Jersey, as well as Skirmish's ION in Jim Thorpe, Penn.

Whether they're training or taking the field for combat, Yankee Division does everything as authentically as they can.

Besides training with a former member of the Army's Special Forces and performing operations straight of the Army Ranger's Handbook, the team wears real battle uniforms, uses instruments such as night vision goggles, and holds camp in three military-issue tents, which house the team's barracks, kitchen and meeting room.

The battlefield at ION is as authentic as it can be as well.

"They have smoke, they have tanks," Jacobson described. "There's 2,000 Germans on the edge of the woods."

Opposing them, naturally, were the Allies, 2,000 strong as well, most of whom were deployed through simulated landing craft.

Jacobson explained that a contingent of 50-100 people are dropped behind German lines, in an undisclosed location, simulating the 101st Airborne Division, which began the real Invasion of Normandy when they parachuted behind enemy lines during the night and early morning of June 5-6.

Taking up positions on a rotating schedule, Jacobson said that when Yankee Division took on the role of the 101st, they took the beach in under a half hour, setting a Skirmish record.

It is from the frontlines of the land invasion though, that Jacobson said he got a glimpse into what it may have felt like for the men who actually stormed the French beach in the spring of 1944.

"It's just a hail of paintballs in there," he said of the Landing Craft as soon as the door begins to drop. "It gives you a sense of probably what it was like in the actual D-Day invasion."

Jacobson recalled one scenario in which he was completely surrounded by enemy fire and knew he was not much longer for that game.

"Shots were coming from all different directions," he said. "It really gives you an appreciation of what those guys must have felt."

Using such team maneuvers as "Walk Hard," which lays down cover fire, "Tears of the Sun," which focuses on one centralized location in the enemy line to weaken until they can break through and "Meat Wave," which is an all-out charge, Yankee Division was named Most Valuable Team at the conclusion of the ION tournament on July 19.

"It's exciting, but it's also depressing because there's no bigger award than this," Jacobson said.

Although the battles Yankee Division fights are simulations of far more costly and dangerous pursuits, Jacobson said getting pelted with paintballs fired from guns capable of shooting 25 balls per second at 280 feet per second, the adrenalin pumps just the same.

"When you get hit, it's especially powerful," he said, adding, "In the moment, you don't feel the pain."

Jacobson, who also works with the Chess Club at Southbridge High School, said practicing and participating in military simulations helps to keep his mind keen, on all fronts.

"It builds teamwork, and quick thinking," Jacobson said. "This is like a chess battle, just on a larger scale."

Yankee Division holds two meet-and-greet events during the year in Oxford, to which the public is always invited. The date for the fall meet-and-greet has not yet been announced.

"We're always looking for like minded people," Jacobson said.

For more information on Yankee Division and their upcoming events, or on how to get involved with military simulation paintball exercises, www.ydpaintball.com.

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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